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August 09, 2005

Musica Deo Sacra - the finale!

Sunday was extremely busy for those of us in the Ministry Team; for myself it started at 0730 with Church Warden duties getting ready for the 0800 at which I was the Assistant for Communion. At 0900 for the Parish Communion I was able to stand back from the ministry side and act as the Church Warden - taking a seat briefly for the lessons before having to dash off to prepare to be the Bishop's Chaplain for the 1100.

The Solemn Eucharist for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, is, I think, best described as a transport of pure sensory overload. Where does one start with something that begins with an organ interlude, "Passacaglia in D Minor", by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637 - 1707) and then slips effortlessly into the "Paukenmesse" setting by Franz Joseph Haydn. The enhanced choir for this service in the MDS calendar is seated at the West End on tiered seating across the great West doors, with the orchestra, "The West of England Players", in front of them. The small "Elliot" Organ is also placed at this end of the church and accompanies the orchestra as a "continuo" in some pieces and as "solo" in others.

Those familiar with the "Paukenmesse" setting will know that it is by turns boisterous and subtle. The Kyrie's pleading is balanced by the exuberant declaration of the Gloria, the Credo is, as it should be, a firm declaration, and the Sanctus and Benedictus are filled with hope. The Agnus Dei is almost plaintive, but beautifully hopeful and expectant - the ideal foil for the Communion anthem by Mozart, "Ave veram corpus".

The sermon fulfilled our expectations in that the preacher, the Bishop of Edinburgh, spoke movingly and wittily without in any way compromising his message to deliver a really powerful sermon. His theme was man's propensity for harming his own wellbeing, and he cleverly used the example of the researcher who "proved" the symbiosis between plants and animals - a mouse and a plant sealed in a bell jar, where the mouse was able to breath because the plant renewed the oxygen - until the mouse ate the plant.

As was to be expected he wove the feast of the Transfiguration and the revealing of the Godhead of Christ into the body of his sermon, pointing to the opposite revelation in the atomic bombing of Japan of man's propensity for self destruction. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking sermon.

This service, too, ended with a magnificent performance on the Milton Organ of the "Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor" by our old friend J S Bach. As ever Carleton managed to produce a virtuouso performance which Bach himself must have applauded.

The final service of the day was Solemn Evensong and Benediction for which I was the Sub Deacon. The setting was a modern one by John Sanders and has some stunning harmonies in the Preces and responses. The canticles were to Howell's "Gloucester Service", very fitting given that Gloucester is our Diocesan allegiance. Two items stand out in this service: the Introit, "My beloved spake" by John Sanders (1933 - 2003) and William Harris' setting of John Donne's "Bring us, O Lord" which was the Anthem.

The sermon by our Vicar, the "Lord Abbot" himself, was yet another thought-provoking and well presented text. Taking as his theme the words from St Mark's Gospel (14: 22 - 26) which was the second lesson, he built his argument around the words "after they had sung a hymn, they went out and came to Gethsemane". He then spoke movingly of the role that music plays in worship in all societies and in particular the role it played in the ministry and witness of Christ Himself. it reminded us as well that those who sang a hymn with Christ at the Last Supper also deserted Him and saw Him nailed to a Cross a short while later. As he pointed out very effectively, we have enjoyed the music, we have enjoyed the "week of Sundays" - now it is time to take the message, the faith, and the Cross itself out into the world.

Benediction is almost a contradiction in a day and age when almost everyone who attends a church is a communicant. It is essentially a Medieval Service created to include the "great unwashed" who would never be "confirmed" and would thus be excluded from ever receiving the Body and Blood of the Eucharist themselves in the blessings that it brings. That said, and admitting that there is little if any theological reasoning behind the Office, to actually take part in it as one of the Sacred Ministers is a deeply humbling experience.

Let me make clear, it is not the Monstrance or even the consecrated Host within it that we venerate or worship, it is He that is represented and present in our worship that is at the centre of our veneration. And yet again, the music makes it all the sweeter!

"O salutaris hostia" by Edward Elgar and "Tantum Ergo" by George Heschel bring you to the climax, the Benediction itself. During the singing of the Tantum Ergo, the minsiters cense the Monstrance and then prostrate themselves before the altar and the Lord, then rise to say the Collect before the Priest raises the Monstrance to give the benediction. Then, after a short Preces, the Deacon removes the Monstrance to the Founder's Chantry, and the congregation sings the final hymn while the sanctuary party leave the Sanctuary and process to the West end for dismissal.

This week of wonderful worship and music was brought to a close by Carleton playing Marcel Dupre's "Final" (Sept Pieces). There is nothing left to say - except, "thanks be to God for the music, the musicians, and for the opportunity to worship with it!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at August 9, 2005 08:11 AM